Free speech expert questions judge’s ruling on Black Lives Matter pin

A Youngstown attorney refused to remove the political pin in court last week

Andrea Burton, a Youngstown attorney, faces jail time after refusing to remove a Black Lives Matter pin.


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – There are new questions Monday in the case of Andrea Burton, the Youngstown attorney facing five days in jail for refusing to remove a Black Lives Matter pin.

At issue are two very strong rights: a judge’s right to control his courtroom and the American right to free speech.

“What they can’t do is single out particular perspectives and say, ‘I will allow some messages or views to be expressed, but not opposing views,'” said Mark Goodman, Scholastic Journalism Chair at Kent State University. “Political speech is entitled to extremely strong First Amendment protection, so the grounds for doing this can’t be it’s a political message and political messages aren’t allowed. That’s just simply false.”

On Friday, Judge Robert Milich said he was acting on legal precedent.

“You don’t have political activity in the courtroom. I’m basing that on the U.S. Supreme Court case. My job is to enforce the law,” Milich said.

The case Milich was referring to was never heard by the Supreme Court. The high court refused to hear it and let a lower court ruling stand.

“Because the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on it, I don’t think that we can say the law is fully defined at this point,” Goodman said.

Judges get a lot of leeway when it comes to control of their courtroom, but Goodman says proving that a political button is a danger in the court when there is no jury around, is a hard case.

“Free expression is a fundamental American value and when that expression will not interfere with the activity of a court, why should we be banning it?”

Burton was freed pending appeal. That appeal has not been filed yet.

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